Happy Times

August 10th, 2015

Our annual Vacation Bible School started today and the program was filled to bursting with 21 children. While we aim to provide religious content this week–including detailed knowledge of the story of Noah’s Ark–my main hope for the program is that the children who attend have a good time.

Many adults look back on their youthful experiences of church and only remember the bad things: poor discipline or excessive discipline, boredom, rigid dogma. Any useful religion that they might have picked up as children was overwhelmed by the negative memories.

So, at the very least, the church can try to make its young attendees happy. Vacation Bible School and Sunday School can be remembered as fun. Maybe even recalled as times when children have glimpsed the joy of God. –J. Douglas Ousley


Diversity Disappointment

August 3rd, 2015

A recent Pew Research Poll ranks 31 American religious groups according to their racial diversity. The Episcopal Church ranks 25 out of 31.

After decades of emphasizing racial inclusiveness and affirmative action appointments, it must surely disappointing to church leaders that our church remains overwhelmingly white. Only 4% black and 2% Latino. Asians barely register.

This is not true in our diocese–or in our parish, for example; both would be higher, though I don’t know the actual numbers. But the national data suggest that simply appointing or electing non-whites to high office will not itself bring rank-and-file people of color into our congregations.

I don’t have any new and bright ideas. It’s interesting, though, that the most diverse denominations–such as Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Roman Catholics–emphasize religion and faith over outreach and politics. –J. Douglas Ousley


Selma Revisited

July 29th, 2015

We had a large and diverse group in last night to see the film, Selma. Most viewers had been too young to remember any of the events in the movie, so much of it came as news.

Perhaps predictably, the Christian element of Dr. King’s message was played down; I’m not sure the name of Jesus was even mentioned. On the other hand, the entirely black constituency of King’s early movement was accurately portrayed–especially worth showing since so many white liberals of the 60’s generation have made implicit claims to being essential to the movement from the beginning.

One final thought: while race relations are much better today, there of course remains much to do. With that need in mind, we should appreciate the role of the federal government in giving King the protection he needed. Sometimes, the only authority that works comes from the top. –J. Douglas Ousley


Hope Springs Eternal

July 20th, 2015

Yesterday, Incarnation welcomed a new Associate Rector, Adrian Dannhauser.

Adrian delivered a rousing sermon, complete with song. We all look forward to her ministry among us.

“Hope springs eternal,” the saying goes. But eternal hope is be incarnated in temporal signs. Incarnation can be proud that a talented and energetic priest has committed herself to God’s work here. Let’s pray for her and give thanks to God for this sign of hope. –J. Douglas Ousley


ASA

July 13th, 2015

Clergy looking to upgrade their positions will ask a church seeking a rector what their “ASA” is. “ASA” stands for “average Sunday attendance.” The figure is calculated for every Episcopal parish’s Parochial Report that must be submitted each year to the national church offices.

Of course, each church is free to count attendees as they like. Some will count anyone who enters the church during the time of a service; others will count only those who are present for the whole service. An early mentor of mine said such figures aren’t really much good; what is valuable is having the same person making the count year-in and year-out. Trends over time will probably signify growth or decline.

But students of the most recent downward trends in the Church of England have argued that attendance isn’t always the best criterion for whether a church is effective. After all, attendance in virtually every volunteer activity–from bowling leagues to Little League to Junior League–has been declining for many years. In fact, compared to these secular organizations, the church is not doing so badly.

I’m not sure I agree with this analysis. It still sounds like an excuse. For what it’s worth, Incarnation’s ASA increased 5% in 2014 over 2013. But from my point of view, we could still do far more to invite people into the fellowship of Christ. –J. Douglas Ousley


Same Old

July 7th, 2015

Never has a modern General Convention of the Episcopal Church attracted so little media attention.

Other than the election by the bishops of a new Presiding Bishop (the “first black…”), some procedural and organizational changes, special funds to black social activist groups, and the usual medley of resolutions for global peace and justice, it’s not clear what was accomplished. Thousands of people, millions of dollars, and a gigantic carbon footprint: let’s hope there will be peace and justice in the church for the next three years. And maybe some new members. –J. Douglas Ousley


For Once, I Was Right

June 29th, 2015

I have an almost perfect talent for mis-predicting the outcomes of elections.

But I got last Saturday’s election right. In fact, I predicted a year ago that Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina would be a strong candidate for Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. At the beginning of this year’s General Convention in Salt Lake City, the House of Bishops chose him to be our next PB.

The election was surprisingly lop-sided, indicating that our bishops recognize the need for a powerful preacher and charismatic personality at the helm. One person can’t do everything. But we can at least put our best bishop to the front of the line. Deo gratias. –J. Douglas Ousley


Not Breaking News

June 22nd, 2015

The 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church begins this week in sunny Salt Lake City. The Convention is always held in the summer and always in cities that are cheap to visit in summer months; a few years ago, the convention was in very sunny Phoenix.

The main interest seems to be the election of a new Presiding Bishop. I’ve already given my opinion on that in a previous blog. Some bishops are predicting that my first choice of a year ago, Michael Curry of North Carolina, will be elected on the first ballot.

What is equally interesting is how there is no other main interest! The world’s largest democratic body, meeting for almost two weeks at vast expense, seems to have nothing much to decide.

That’s especially disheartening when every recent year’s statistics register declines in membership and attendance at American Episcopal churches. May God save his church. –J. Douglas Ousley


Makes the Heart Glad

June 8th, 2015

Among the famous buildings near Incarnation is Madison Square Garden. I was walking by there last week as a throng of college students in caps and gowns emerged with their families from what must have been a degree-awarding ceremony.

Although the diversity of the graduates was predictable–a number of different national backgrounds were represented, for instance–it was still touching to see them all. America really is the land of opportunity, and with all the media attention to racial prejudice, it was heartening to see the representatives of many peoples and nations as they prepared to contribute to our common future. –J. Douglas Ousley


Inspiring

June 3rd, 2015

This Sunday, we will celebrate the completion of our capital campaign to raise money to restore the spire of the church.

The program went surprisingly well–the work was done under budget and the funds turned out to be sufficient to do additional work that we thought we would need to do in five or ten years. This bonus saved our paying for a second scaffold to surround the church.

Now not only does the spire look pristine, but we have eliminated the sidewalk bridge that hid our church for over two years. So we are ready once again to invite people into our building and into our parish family. –J. Douglas Ousley